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I've seen following claims made by pro-legalization lobby:

  • SWATs are used more often for drug warrants than to deal with any violent crimes
  • most of these warrants are for marijuana
  • significant number of people are killed during these SWAT raids

How true are these claims?

As for reference, some of such claims are contained in this article by Gawker: "SWAT Team Raids House, Shoots Dogs over 'Small Amount of Marijuana'":

As Balko points out, there are as many as 100 of these terrifying paramilitary raids per day in the U.S., conducted under the aegis of "the war on drugs," theoretically targeting drug traffickers and other "enemies." Some of the raids turn up significant amounts of illegal substances; others turn up even less than the "small amount of marijuana" the police were able to find at Whitworth's house. Many wind up targeted innocent people. This map of "botched raids" gives some indication of the disturbing frequency not just of the operations themselves, but the mistakes, often fatal, that occur during their execution.


To address some of the doubts expressed in the comments:

  • definition of violent crime (according to FBI UCR): "composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force." (source)
  • as for significant number of people killed: comparison with number of people killed by criminals in home invasions would be great.
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    significant number of people are killed during these SWAT raids -- The map, if it's at all complete, shows forty incidents of "Death of an innocent". The earliest incident I noticed (I didn't look at them all) was in 1989. Although any/every death is significant to the deceaseds' loved ones, however IMHO 40 deaths in 30 years in the USA (population of around three hundred million) is not a "significant number of people". – ChrisW Aug 9 '13 at 14:12
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    @ChrisW You need to look at things in the context of the SWAT raids though. If a significant number of people that are involved in SWAT raids are being killed or injured as a result of that raid, then that would be cause for concern. – rjzii Aug 9 '13 at 14:24
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    @ChrisW: plus "death of nonviolent offender". BTW does the report which is source of the map claim that it covers all cases? As for significance, for comparison in UK in 2012 there were 0 (zero) fatalities by police shooting. – vartec Aug 9 '13 at 14:26
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    And most often quantities, which have been decriminalized in most Europe, Canada and many Latin American countries -- Marijuana possession has not been decriminalized in Canada (although, admittedly, I have heard anecdotally that police won't necessarily bother to arrest you for it); nor, that I know of, in "most of Europe". – ChrisW Aug 9 '13 at 16:23
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    @vartec which is no doubt the impression those statistics want you to get. Which in itself makes me skeptical of them. – jwenting Aug 12 '13 at 12:56
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SWATs are used more often for drug warrants than to deal with any violent crimes

An ACLU report © 2014 titled War Comes Home -- The Excessive Militarization of American Policing says that in their statistical study of 800 SWAT deployments conducted by 20 law enforcement agencies during the years 2011-2012, 62% were for drug searches (including marijuana).

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    That answers one of the three claims in the body of the question, but not the question itself. Of those 62%, are more than 80% of them (hence 50% of the total) for marijuana? How many cases are there where a SWAT team discovers harder drugs, guns, stolen goods, imprisoned people, etc., but also discovers marijuana? How many people (not just dogs) have been killed during such raids? – david Dec 20 '16 at 17:40
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Are SWATs use more often for drug warrants than for violent crimes?

The following evidence shows that during felony drug investigations, no-knock warrants are sought by law enforcement, and that the dichotomy between drug warrants and violence is not universally accepted.


In the US, the type of warrant that SWAT is best suited for is a no-knock warrant. A no-knock search is reasonable when officials have a reasonable suspicion that announcement of their presence would result in destruction of evidence or threat to the officer(s) executing the warrant.

In Brief for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc as Amicus Curiae, Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385 (1997), Americans for Effective Law Enforcement argued that:

in search warrant cases involving felonious drug charges, the risk of injury or death to the executing officers is so great that in this class of cases the officers are constitutionally excused from the knock and announce requirement

However, this argument for a blanket exception was rejected by the United States Supreme Court in Richards v. Wisconsin, who held that warrants must be obtained on a case-by-case basis. The fourth amendment "does not permit a blanket exception to the knock-and-announce requirement in the case of all warrants executed in felony drug investigations".

Nonetheless, the argument of American for Effective Law Enforcement highlights the standard practice of seeking a no-knock warrant when executing a search or seizure related to felony drug charges.

The amicus brief and the decision also show that not everybody agrees with the dichotomy between felony drug charges and violence that you present in your premise. The United States Supreme Court has recognized "the fact that felony drug investigations may frequently present [circumstances presenting a threat of physical violence or where officers believe that evidence would be destroyed if advance notice were given]".

Are most drug-related no-knock search warrants for marijuana?

Are a significant number of people killed during the execution of no-knock search warrants?

  • I'm looking for either a primary source or aggregate data about the reasons for no-knock search warrants. – user5582 Aug 12 '13 at 7:59
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    "not everybody agrees with the dichotomy between felony drug charges and violence". Well, the definition used by law enforcement in US is as follows: "violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force." (source). Clearly, drug charges do not fall in any of the categories. – vartec Aug 12 '13 at 11:19
  • "not everybody agrees with the dichotomy between felony drug charges and violence". Wrong. The US Supreme Court rules on constitutional issues. In their opinion the constitution does not allow a blanket no-knock warrant allowance for anything, whether it's drug related or not. – jwenting Aug 12 '13 at 12:58
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    @vartec IMO he meant "dichotomy between felony drug charges and risk of violence to the officers performing the arrest": that, is explicit in the quote. – ChrisW Aug 12 '13 at 13:09
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    @ChrisW They went on: "a large problem for the police is the sophisticated weapons used by the drug dealers", "Police experience finds that guns are frequently found at the locations of drug search warrants", "As evidenced by the number of police killed in drug-related circumstances, not only do the drug dealers have sophisticated weapons, they use them.", "Drug suspects don't surrender any more. They fight, they grab you, and a lot of them will kill you if they can." They say this "demonstrate[s] the risk police officers take when they enter a residence to execute a drug search warrant". – user5582 Aug 14 '13 at 6:56

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